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Ex-Im Bank opponents block board member confirmation

If this election season has one overarching message – it’s that Americans are fed up with partisan gridlock and the dysfunctional political process. And for anyone who’s been paying attention to Washington the past few years, it’s a pretty understandable state of affairs.

A recent example is the U.S. Export Import Bank (Ex-Im), a small federal agency that helps American businesses by offering loans and insurance to help them sell their products overseas. For more than 80 years, Ex-Im has quietly chugged along, supporting American export sales and helping create high quality, high wage manufacturing jobs. While the bank became the subject of a partisan squabble over the past couple of years, most Americans thought that controversy was put to rest last December when Congress renewed its operations through 2019.

But in today’s Washington, it seems like no fight is ever truly over and no opportunity to score partisan points can ever be missed. So opponents of the bank who failed to kill it are refusing to confirm the new board member needed to bring Ex-Im’s leadership to a full quorum so it can properly do its job. The White House nominated Republican J. Mark McWatters to this post in early January, but so far he has been blockaded without a vote.

As we have seen time and time again, the small minority of members log-jamming Mr. McWatters don’t challenge his qualifications, judgment, or experience (in an interesting twist, he is actually a respected former staffer to one of the bank’s loudest critics in Congress, Texas’ Jeb Hensarling).

To be clear, I don’t begrudge critics of the bank who made their case and fought a long, hard fight to shut it down. I disagree with them on the merits, of course – the bank has supported more than $270 billion in U.S. exports and 1.4 million American jobs in the past seven years and contributed more than $700 million to Wisconsin’s economy in just the past two years. And the bank is an exceedingly careful steward of taxpayer funds, bringing in more revenue than it costs to operate most years thanks to interest and the fees it charges for its services. Ex-Im has returned $7 billion to the U.S. Treasury in the past two decades alone.

But our political system cannot function if the losing side refuses to move on and work for the good of the country after controversies like this are resolved. The U.S. Export-Import Bank was reauthorized by a supermajority in Congress in December so confirming a board member should be simple.

I call on Senators Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, to take a strong bipartisan stand against this reckless abuse of power and demand that the Senate immediately consider the confirmation of Mark McWatters to the board of the Ex-Im Bank.

If senators believe they have legitimate reasons to reject his nomination, of course they are free to do so (although I confess it is hard to see any basis for such a vote other than the broader mission to hamper the Ex-Im Bank). But no one can honestly deny that Mr. McWatters deserves an up or down vote.

If Congress is going to regain the trust and respect of the American people, doing its job on such basic matters as this would be a very good place to start.

Kurt Bauer is president and CEO of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

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